Giving up stuff for Lent

Since Ash Wednesday is this week, I’m expecting to hear a lot of people mention how they give up something like chocolate or alcohol for Lent. Is this practice an official practice of the Catholic church, or is it just a folk custom? Where did it originate? Also, I was suprised to find out lately that abstaining from meat on Lenten Fridays is not a universal practice in the Catholic church. Outside of the US, what is the typical church rule for abstinence or fasting?

The general rule is to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday the rule is to not only abstain from eating meat, but also to fast on those days. Here, fasting means having only one significant meal during the day (a second light meal may be eaten).

A key aspect of Lent is that it is a time of introspection. Depriving yourself of some “vice” is a good daily reminder of the importance of the season. The priests here encourage you to donate the savings from not partaking in your vice (e.g., the money you would have spent on alcohol) to the poor.

A reasonably good survey of the practices during the Lenten season can be found here at Wikipedia: Lent